The Banned List for Commander is designed not to balance competitive play, but to help shape in the minds of its fans the vision held by its founders and Rules Committee. That vision is to create variable, interactive, and epic multiplayer games where memories are made, to foster the social nature of the format, and to underscore that competition is not the format’s primary goal. It sets out to define the parameters of Official Commander while recognizing that local groups may wish to modify things to suit their own needs.
The Rules Committee's goal for Commander is for it to be different than other Magic games. Where competitive formats seek to balance the playing field for all styles and strategies, we want to encourage a style of game that is more open and directed towards all players having a good time regardless of who wins. This is summarized as “Create games that you’d love to remember, not the ones others would like to forget.”
While the Banned List helps to define what can be played, Commander is unique to Magic formats in that it seeks to shape the mindset of the game before players ever start building decks, pointing them in the direction of thinking socially before they choose their first card. It recognizes that due to the Eternal nature of the format, there are too many cards to try to shape it via only the Banned List, but that infusing the decklist construction approach with these philosophies is important; it is easier to build decks designed to maximize fun than it is to pull punches while playing the game.
This is the direction of the format, with full understanding that it’s not for everyone. We recognize that without drastic measures (like a 200 card Banned List), we can’t actually prevent an individual from breaking the format. What we can do is create a social environment where that individual doesn’t want to, or at the very least, is discouraged from doing so.
The Banned List contains the worst of the offenders for games being played in the spirit described above, those that to us are obvious choices in steering the format towards the general style of games we’d like to promote. While we’ve tried to make it fairly objective, there will always be a measure of subjectivity since different people evaluate cards and their impacts differently. We’d like the Banned List to be as small as possible to make it easily understandable for the players and manageable for us, meaning we’re not going to ban every card that someone finds unpleasant to play against. It is not a problem that some cards are strong.
In creating the Banned List, there are several factors that are only taken into small consideration, if at all:
* Competitive balance. There are Commander tournaments, but this philosophy simply doesn’t take them into account. We feel that to do so violates the ideal of the social format.
* One on one play. A 1v1 community exists (and the French community has created a Banned List for it), but Commander is designed as a multiplayer format.
* While we’d like to maintain a measure of consistency (we wouldn’t for example, ban Grizzly Bears and not Balduvian Bears), we want to avoid the minefield of “cascading” bans (“if this is banned, then that should be banned”) because it inevitably leads to an unmanageable list.
There are several criteria that carry weight in Rules Committee discussions on individual cards. It is sometimes the intersection of these criteria that lead a card to be banned, not a single unified rule. Common criteria include:
* Creates Undesirable Games/Game Situations. Some cards produce the kinds of games we’d like to avoid and we see them as creating a negative experience for a majority of the player base. They tend to be anticlimactic wins out of nowhere, unexpected combos that end an otherwise enjoyable game, or creating situations which completely take play of the game away from the other players. This does include some cards that have a casting cost far too low for their effect, or whose abilities simply break the format at any cost.
* Warps The Format Strategically. Commander decks are about variety, and if a strategy becomes sufficiently omnipresent that the games become very similar even across different playgroups, we may need to try to rein in the presence of that deck.
* Produces Too Much Mana Too Quickly. Commander is a format about epic plays, but the Turn 10 epic play happening on Turn 3 is deflating. Limited acceleration is good, but we don’t want the format to turn into “Who can go off earliest,” so we rein in large quantities of early mana.
* Interacts Badly With the Structure of Commander. Magic is not designed with Commander in mind, and the different rules, especially the presence of the Commander in the Command Zone can create degenerate or unfortunate situations.
* Creates a Perceived High Barrier to Entry. Because it’s a non-competitive format, we don’t want players to feel as though they need to spend a great deal of money to be able to play. It is not sufficient for a card to simply be expensive - expected ubiquity and the availability of suitable replacements are also considered. This rule is mostly invoked for cards fifteen or more years out of print and is unlikely to impact the list further.
We believe that both Official Commander and local variants can successfully co-exist. What works in the broader audience may not resonate around your local game shop or kitchen table. We encourage you to modify both philosophy and Banned List locally to suit your own needs while being aware that when you travel outside your local area, perhaps even on the other side of town, you’ll need to be ready to play with the Official rules, including the appropriate spirit. Likewise, when new players enter your playgroup they may have expectations closer to this Official Philosophy and it will usually help the transition to discuss why they/you do things a particular way.